Inaugural fair and rodeo highlights the rural heart of urbanizing Williamson County
This wasn't Williamson County’s first rodeo. It also hosts the Taylor Rodeo, the Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo, the Livestock Show and regular 4H and FFA events.
But from Thursday to Saturday — and after a yearlong pandemic delay — the first official Williamson County Fair and Rodeo came to life.
The inaugural event brought back an often-forgotten truth about the area, which makes headlines for its tech giants, ever-expanding suburbs, and nearly constant construction bonds on its ballots.
That truth: Agriculture is the lifeblood of this urbanizing county.
And that’s what Scott Heselmeyer, president of the Williamson County Fair Association, hoped to highlight when he presented the idea for the fair and rodeo to county commissioners two years ago.
“So much focus gets put on ... the urbanization and the growth that's going on in Williamson County," he said. "We forget that fully half of the county is still rural. And much of the county is still engaged in agriculture and still involved in things like rodeo and livestock. ... It's a good reminder that those things are still important here in Williamson County.”
County Commissioner Russ Boles shared Heselmeyer’s feeling. Boles took office the year the idea was presented, and he championed the cause from the get-go.
He said he liked the idea of the rodeo, but more than that, he liked the chance to elevate the coexisting urban and rural sides of the county. He said the rodeo was made possible by a marriage of the two, in fact.
The Williamson County Expo Center which was built in the past decade — one of many new projects the county has OK’d as its population expands — provided a place to hold the rodeo.
"We're absolutely about colleges and medical schools and Dell diamonds and Dell computers," Boles said, "but we're also about farmers and about ranchers. We're about all of that."
The Commissioners Court agreed on a deal with the Williamson County Fair Association in 2019 to support the event — offering $100,000, with the condition that those funds would be repaid within four years.
After the money was secured, plans got underway.
Kristen Tidwell was one of the attendees at the rodeo Thursday night. She and her husband, Wes, went with their children Emily, 9, and Zach, 6. Everyone dressed in Western wear and cowboy boots.
"We like, as far as local festivals and fairs, trying to bring our kids out and enjoy it," she said. "I grew up in Central Texas, so it's nice to be able to see this and hopefully support Williamson County ... And it has all the highlights."
Those highlights included mutton busting, pig races, mustang riders, a carnival and local vendors.
One of those vendors was Round Rock resident George Tamayo. He said he was working to build something new alongside the traditional agriculture and livestock displays.
Tamayo was selling apparel from his company UHerd. It was his third rodeo in three weeks. He said he's found the community his business is geared toward at these events.
"Our brand represents a lot of different walks of life: blue-collar guys, ranchers, farmers, mechanics, truckers and whatnot," he said. "So we try to incorporate a little bit of everything into our products."
As Tamayo worked his booth, Hutto locals Teresa Sweeney, Karen Davidson and Tanya Scott headed to get funnel cake.
While the food and a lengthy visit to the petting zoo made a great trip, they said one of the best things was how short that trip to Taylor was.
“There’s a lot more local people for sure [at the rodeo],” Sweeney said.
And the group said they’d come again.
Heselmeyer hoped the combination of the culture, the economic opportunities and the nostalgia would offer something for everyone.
“All of those things come together in one place for a big family-friendly environment to really celebrate the agricultural heritage of our county, and we have not had that all in one event before," he said. "And that's what we're working to create in the Williamson County Fair and Rodeo.”
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